Lessons from the second law of Thermodynamics

For only one frame of all of human history, complete order existed. The universe as we know it began as an infinitesimal speck of incomprehensible density containing all the stuff that future galaxies would be made of, one brief state of complete togetherness and order, until all that potential just burst and created our universe. In the 13.7 billion years since then, everything has become much more chaotic. Stars imploded, spewing the rich and complex atoms necessary to create molecules, as galaxies accelerated away from each other and the temperature of the entire mad system plummeted toward absolute zero, the point at which all motion will cease and every bit life and flame in the universe will be extinguished. We are all of us tending toward entropy, toward that chaotic state of diaspora that will occur after our universe has completed the wild dance of creation and expended the last wisp of its energies.

On a more human level, we see this unraveling of order occurring every day, every year. As the march of years pass us by, our DNA ceases to replicate correctly, making little mistakes with each division of each cell, until the cumulative errors lead to our muscles breaking down, our skin wrinkling up, and our consciousness fading into death. Just as the seasons change and the Earth rotates about her axis, so to do humans cycle through the world, from birth to death in an ever-changing arc from order to dissolution. Everything is impermanent; this we know.

Then why do we so deeply fear change and cling so desperately to permanence and certainty? Parents fret as their children grow older, students nervously await graduation with its onslaught of the unknown, and not many of us feel completely comfortable traveling somewhere strange without a well-defined plan. We crave permanence in our careers, relationships, and routines, despite the fact that we see evidence everyday of the constantly changing nature of our world. There is a reason that all major religions preach the existence of an afterlife, since a life after death would affirm our immortality and permanence in a world of constant flux. Yet, every scientific theory affirms the second law of thermodynamics, that everything in our world will eventually become disordered and chaotic. Still, we believe that we are the exception to this fundamental law of physics. Either we are incorrect in thinking that our souls live forever, or we truly are the only exception to one of the governing laws of nature that commands all other things in our universe. Personally, I believe the latter to be highly unlikely, yet I do not concede that our individual lack of permanence in any way lessens the glorious nature of our existence.

We fear the natural cycle of change because of our belief that the ego somehow stands separate from the natural world, that each of our souls lies ensconced in a separate vessel, cut off from the ebb and flow of the universe. This cannot be true. After all, every other phenomenon in the universe is tied together by the foundational laws of physics that governs our world; we are no exception. The decaying of our bodies is driven by the same laws that cause the acceleration of the galaxies to increase with each second: the tendency toward entropy. At first, it may seem to us that our mortality renders us unexceptional; however, there is a heart-wrenching beauty in human life emerging with all its order and complexity, blossoming into golden civilizations with no regard for the universal grind towards chaos, defying the trend toward disorder with our cities and structures and works of art. There is beauty in our shared transitory existence; it binds us together and rids us of the illusion of the separate ego, for we are but many iterations of the same phenomenon, identical in our crackling, impossible dance through a universe that tends toward entropy.

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